Early specialization by many sport scientists is today called the sickness of modern sport. In modern sport, young athletes need to spend so much time playing their sport because if they don’t do that, their opponents will! Let’s put it this way… imagine a 12-year old tennis player who is practicing at the court every day for 1.5 hours for 1 month. This means 45 hours/month. His friend is practicing 3 hours daily, which means 90 hours/month. In six-month period, this is 270 hours against 540 hours. If they play against each other on the tournament, it is not too hard to figure out who is going to win. At such a young age where physical characteristics are still not so dominant in sport with high technical demands, the winner is basically always the one who is training more specifically. Moreover, if that one continues to win a large per cent of his/her matches, we deal with the situation where, already at that age, managers, sponsors and possibly higher amounts of money are entering the game… Of course, with that amount of time spent on the court there is less time available to train outside the court and by training in that way we find over-specialized, but under-developed young bodies. What I mean is that these young athletes are already incredibly good at playing their sport but if you ask them to do the basic locomotive tasks such as forward/backward roll or simple bodyweight deep squat they are not able do it! Youth sports participation has evolved from child-driven, recreational free play to highly structured, deliberate practice devoted to sports-specific skill development!
And now, the big question is what can we, as S&C coaches, do with these kids who spend every day 3 or more hours on the court? First of all we need to step out from the classic S&C approach where we only think about jumping higher and running faster because kids are doing that on the court every day!! There are so many categories we need to develop to support the body to be able to jump and run during the actual play. Another important thing to consider is that modern children are not playing outside in the parks, they are not climbing and falling from trees, they are not riding a bike for the whole day and by not doing so they are not developing what I’m calling pre-athleticism!!
Here is a good example from TPI – Titleist Performance Institute training model for young golf players based on biological age. TPI is currently considered the best place for training young golf players and many facilities/academies of other sports are trying to copy their developmental training model.
On the other hand, we have similar situation in professional sport too! With so many competition events during one week or month (look at the NBA, Baseball, top soccer teams in Europe, tennis tournaments almost every week) athletes are, all the time, under specific load (playing sport) and there is little or almost no time (if you calculate traveling and changing time zones) for actual training. And if athletes get into this rhythm for several years, suddenly we have a situation of over-specialized, but under-developed body. Athletes are highly specialized, sometimes on the highest sport levels, but we can find massive anterior pelvic tilt with always-tight hip flexors; they want to stretch their hamstrings and/or calves day and night, and they do not know how to breathe properly. In my opinion, here again we need to step out of the classic S&C coach’s head and start thinking how we can help the athlete to feel better and to move better by not only loading him even more, but by correcting his body posture and allowing him to move with less compensatory movement pattern.
For high-level athletes we need to find a training solution: HOW TO DO MORE WITH LESS. And here I mean less volume, less intensity! Many times we don’t even have 1 day in a week to do proper strength training. What we need is a smart and intelligent approach to the training. Breathing, posture, developing movement patterns during low level and high-level intensities, fatigue resistance training modalities…